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Fixes for thin shots and topping

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Chicken Wing

Many golfers fight “thin” shots, “skulled” shots and “topped” shots at some point — even the best golfers in the world.

All of these shots occur when the face of the club doesn’t “get down” to the bottom of the ball. There are various degrees of this of course, which is why we have three different names. But for clarity in this article, I’m going to call them all “thin shots.”

Thin shots often occur as a reaction to a previous “fat” shot. In technical terms, they happen because of a shortened radius of the left arm and club extension into impact.

There are plenty of reasons why golfers hit thin shots. A common reason (pictured above) is “the chicken wing,” or that golfers raise their “swing center.” If you watch an elite level player swing, you’ll notice that their left arm reaches a fully extended position into impact (Note: Lee Westwood is an exception). Many amateurs shorten their left arm to avoid hitting the ground, a make-up move that is often needed because of a golfer’s too steep plane or angle of attack.

Another common cause of thin shots is a very flat swing, which is characterized by the arms swinging too much around. Since the arms are swinging so much around, they cannot swing down to hit the bottom of the ball. Also, a path that is too much from the inside will cause the club to bottom out too soon and force golfers to RAISE their hands and handle of the golf club into impact.

Flat Swingtopping high hands from the inside

 A swing that is too flat (left) and a swing that approaches the ball too much from the inside. These are both causes of thin shots. 

But the most frequent cause of thin shots that I see, especially for better players, is what I call a “late” hit.

Late hits cause more thin shots than any of the moves above. If any part of the upper body moves “out” (pictured below) on the downswing before the arms come down or are dropped onto a lower plane, the golfer will rarely get to the bottom of the golf ball. Very often, the reaction to getting ahead is to try to throw the club at the ball at the very last second in a last ditch effort to get the arms extended. At that point some well-meaning, but not always well-informed friend will tell the golfer,  “You’re casting!”

topping way ahead of it

It is my belief that a golfer must get their arms down, period. That’s why many golfers struggle when they are given advice to “get off the right side” or “get through the ball.” It is often misunderstood, because the interpretation of those tips is to move the body ahead in the transition, which puts them into the LATE position I described. Many golfers simply haven’t been taught that they have to drop their arms, which brings the golf club with them as they try to “get through” the ball.

I teach many new players and many mid-to-high handicap players to “get their arms down first.” A great drill to help golfers learn this is to have them put their feet together and swing, which allow them to feel the arms and club coming up and down. Now at some point, learning to get the arms down will lead to fat shots and some hooked shots. When that happens, golfers need to start working on adding some body turn through the ball, which I will cover in a future article. But not until they learn to swing the arms!

I have seen more good results from this progression — getting the arms down and then adding turn — than any other. Certainly the full golf swing is a combination of the vertical (the arms and club) and the horizontal (the body rotating), but if you are hitting a lot of “late” thin shots, start thinking about an earlier release and getting the club down sooner.

Often, the way to detect your own fault here is the direction of the topped shot. A thin shot that starts left of the target is late one, and a thin shot that starts to the right is due to a path that comes too much from the inside, which forces the lifting of the hands.

I know this change in thinking will help many get to the bottom of the golf ball more often.

One final note: Check your posture. Another leading cause of thin shots is a posture that is too bent over, which can cause golfers to “bail out” at impact. Make sure you’re standing tall so that your arms have room to swing.

As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at [email protected]

25 Comments

25 Comments

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    Feb 5, 2019 at 8:20 am

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  2. ToMaHaWK

    Jul 8, 2017 at 10:20 am

    if you are hitting a lot of “late” thin shots, start thinking about an earlier release and getting the club down sooner. <—- These Tip Fix Thin Shot For Me!

  3. ToMaHaWK

    Jul 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Thank you for sharing these Tips, Very Helpful

    I have suffer from thin shot for along time and i got injured (left elbow – Backhand) because of “Late Hit”

    I find many way to fix it but I can’t, I had consulted with Professional but can’t fix my problem. Until I found your article!

    Now I have fun with golf again! Thank you so much!

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    Jan 18, 2016 at 9:21 pm

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  16. doej

    Apr 20, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    This is one of the best tips I’ve heard in a while. As 4cap, my miss is that I get late, get stuck, etc…

    I feel like my arms are always trailing.

    Thanks Dennis.

  17. leftright

    Apr 16, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    If you top the ball a lot..quit. You have no talent and should take up something else. You are holding up the golf course.

    • nobogeyshere

      Apr 17, 2014 at 6:06 am

      @leftright – great attitude. This is a site for people to learn. People like you are the entire issue with the world.

      By the way, how long have you been on tour?

      • leftright

        Apr 17, 2014 at 11:24 am

        It is not about wanting to play, it is about can you play. Too many people take up the golf course, playing when they should not be playing because they have money, know someone and in turn we have 5-6 hour rounds. If someone has little or no talent for the game then not unless they want to play later afternoons or by themselves or “with their wives” then don’t show up on Saturday morning with true golfers. Yes, this is the issue with the world and probably why you are some progressive/liberal ideologue that think everyone deserves everything, no matter what. If that guy who tops the ball frequently can play Saturday morning and not hold up play (which he cannot) then more power to him…but he has not earned the priviledge (it is not a right like you liberals think)to tee it up at those time no more than I deserve to tee it up in the US Amateur at my ripe age. Golf for the masses may sound good but it undermines the integrity of the game which is being destroyed by people like your guy Obama playing and paralyzing golf courses while paralyzing America in the process.

        • lco21

          Apr 17, 2014 at 11:33 am

          If it bugs you that much, join a private club and stop playing on public courses.

        • Double Mocha Man

          Apr 18, 2014 at 7:10 pm

          RightRight… you almost had me until you got to the part where you rant on a sitting president. Some of your points were mildly valid but you spoiled it by going all political.

  18. Anne

    Mar 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    This is what you taught me to do @Nemacolin! So helpful… Thanks

  19. Dennis Clark

    Mar 21, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    something easy until you get the sequence…7/8 iron. The thing to do is gradually widen your stance after you feeel the arms swinging down and gradually add some turn through

  20. Cody

    Mar 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Do you recommend a certain club when practicing the feet-together drill?

    • michael

      Mar 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm

      as long as its a covert the drill will work just fine.

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Instruction

What you can learn from Steve Elkington

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When you think of great golf swings from the past and present time, Steve Elkington’s golf swing instantly comes to mind. His playing career has included a PGA championship, two Players Championships and more than 50 weeks inside the top-10 world golf rankings. This article will examine not only key moves you can take from Elk’s swing but learning to take your swing to the golf course.

As opposed to looking at a swing frame by frame at key positions, viewing a swing at normal speed can be just as beneficial. This can give students a look at the sequence of the swing as one dynamic motion. Research also suggests learning a motion as one movement as opposed to part-training (stopping the swing at certain points) will enhancing learning.

When viewed at full speed, the simplicity of Elk’s swing is made clear. There is minimal motion as he gets more out of less. This swing pattern can correlate to a conversation he once had with five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson.

When asking Thomson keys to his golf swing and it’s longevity, Thomson explained to Elk, “You have to have great hands and arms.” Thomson further elaborated on the arms and body relationship. “The older you get, you can’t move your body as well, but you can learn to swing your arms well.”

So what’s the best way to get the feel of this motion? Try practicing hitting drivers off your knees. This drill forces your upper body to coil in the proper direction and maintain your spine angle. If you have excess movement, tilt, or sway while doing this drill you will likely miss the ball. For more detail on this drill, read my Driver off the knees article.

Another key move you can take from Elk is in the set-up position. Note the structure of the trail arm. The arm is bent and tucked below his lead arm as well as his trail shoulder below the lead shoulder – he has angle in his trail wrist, a fixed impact position.

This position makes impact easier to find. From this position, Elk can use his right arm as a pushing motion though the ball.

A golf swing can look pretty, but it is of no use if you can’t perform when it matters, on the golf course. When Elk is playing his best, he never loses feel or awareness to the shaft or the clubface throughout the swing. This is critical to performing on the golf course. Using this awareness and a simple thought on the golf course will promote hitting shots on the course, rather than playing swing.

To enhance shaft and face awareness, next time you are on the range place an alignment stick 10 yards ahead of you down the target line. Practice shaping shots around the stick with different flights. Focus on the feel created by your hands through impact.

Twitter: @kkelley_golf

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Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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